More than two years after a 48-inch water main ruptured and flooded a large portion of Southwest Center City, residents and business owners could finally be seeing some relief.
Special master David Fineman, who was assigned by Common Pleas Court Judge Mark I. Bernstein to figure out how to distribute $500,000 - the city's liability - to people and businesses with claims totaling $1.7 million, filed his recommendations Friday, and if approved by the court next month, checks will soon be in the mail.
The settlement was made possible by Peco's agreeing to accept $240,000 - about 28 percent for its original claim of $870,000 - as payment in full. Peco's claim was larger than those of all the other aggrieved parties combined. The deal makes it possible for the other claimants to receive a larger slice of the $500,000 pie.
The news was welcomed by some of the other claimants.
"It didn't seem like Peco was going to budge," said Bruce Amos, whose basement kitchen on 21st Street was flooded, resulting in $29,462 in damage.
Amos and the other claimants are now in line to receive about 60 percent of their claims, an outcome he called "fantastic."
"Everyone walks away with something," Amos added.
After the main ruptured at 21st and Bainbridge Streets in July 2012, more than 100 residents and business owners spent days dredging mud out of their properties, and afterward filed individual claims with the city.
But the city's risk management office pointed out that state law sets the liability limit at $500,000 per incident - setting off a scramble.
Early in the process, Verizon withdrew its $3,000 claim, but Peco insisted on being compensated as much as possible for damage to its lines. That led to a series of meetings among residents and officials to figure out a way to either get Peco to reduce its claim or to find more money.
The case ended up in Bernstein's hands, and he appointed Fineman to sort through the claims and make a recommendation.
Fineman, whose hourly rate is more than $500, charged a discounted $225 and is seeking $19,611 in compensation, which will be taken from the pot.
In addition to the recommendations, Fineman also urged the legislature to increase the $500,000 cap, established in 1980. In today's money, that is equivalent to $1.3 million.
Two area legislators have introduced bills to address the cap, but both proposals are stuck in committees. City officials said at a hearing that they were against increasing the cap because it could result in higher costs for the cash-strapped city.
Attorneys for some of the victims in June suggested legislation for City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the district, to introduce that would create a special victims fund. Johnson said he was reviewing such legislation and "exploring what our options are."
His staff is drafting an ordinance that would transfer $400,000 from the city's grant revenue fund to pay those parts of the claims that were not reimbursed.
A hearing on the report will be held in City Hall on Oct. 15, after which Bernstein will decide whether to follow the recommendations - and put the compensation checks in the mail.